Despite the fact that venture capitalists have been cautious with their investments since the 2008 crash, mobile startups are cashing in. Mobile is hot, and the entrenched players--Apple, Samsung, Google, the carriers--may well get blind-sided by such innovations as m-commerce, augmented reality and do-it-yourself mobile app building platforms.
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Anyone who has followed startups even casually knows that venture capital is a numbers game. VCs place many bets and hope to cash in on a few. Some of the startups below could collapse before the virtual ink is dry on this story. However, it's a good bet that at least a couple of these will help change what we think about when we think about mobile.
Disruption: Changing how patients find doctors and book appointments, allowing them to do so via a mobile app or the Web. Headquarters: New York City Founded: 2007 CEO: Cyrus Massoumi, who previously served as Engagement Manager at McKinsey & Co.
Why they're on this list: m-health is a hot area, yet much of the innovation is focused on the care-giver side of the equation. How do you give doctors secure access to patient charts from their iPads? How do you gather data, wirelessly, from medical devices to fine-tune care? How do you enable secure remote access to MRIs and CT scans?
ZocDoc tackles a major pain point for patients:Finding a nearby doctor or dentist who accepts your insurance isn't as simple as it should be, especially when you travel. And actually booking an appointment anytime in the next month or so can be an almost Herculean task.
ZocDoc searches by insurance, location, specialty, gender, and even languages spoken. Users can also see verified reviews, doctor qualifications and professional statements, as well as photos of the doctors and their facilities. By revealing what ZocDoc calls the "hidden supply" of appointments--including the 10-20 percent of appointments that are cancelled at the last minute -most ZocDoc patients see a doctor within 24-72 hours. Not bad.
This isn't strictly a mobile service, but the greatest value of this service will likely be realized by travelers using it on their smartphones.
Funding: $95 million in three rounds of funding from Goldman Sachs, DST Global, Bezos Expeditions, Founder Fund, Khosla Ventures, Marc Benioff and SV Angel.
Disruption: Providing a standardized global credit score for anyone with a mobile phone, which has the potential to revolutionize the financial-services sector in emerging markets. Headquarters: Santa Monica, Calif. Founded: 2011 CEO: Shivani Siroya, who was formerly a financial consultant with Health Net.
Why they're on this list: 2.5 billion working adults worldwide lack access to financial services. While the concept of micro-loans earned Muhammad Yunus a Nobel Prize, huge barriers still exist that prevent entrepreneurs in the developing world from raising capital.
InVenture has created an SMS-based app for low-income entrepreneurs in emerging markets that does two things: First, entrepreneurs with no access to financial services now get a simple and easy-to-use accounting tool to help them manage their businesses via text message.
Second, and more importantly, as entrepreneurs text InVenture their daily spending expenditures, InVenture takes this data, plugs it into their proprietary algorithm and then generates a credit score, which will provide people operating in the informal economy with their first opportunity to access financial services from established banks and micro-finance institutions.
Funding: InVenture has raised an undisclosed amount of early funding and has secured several grants.
Disruption: Pioneering location-based, mobile marketing and social networking. Headquarters: Boulder, Colo. Founded: 2009 CEO: Dave Elchoness, who previously founded and served as CEO for VRWorkplace; before that, he served as an IT director for Qwest.
Why they're on this list: Tagwhat leverages your mobile device's built-in location sensors to deliver Web- and social-networking content about the places around you. The strategy of tying LBS to social networks is a smart one. Most LBS vendors simply try to push advertisements or coupons or other stuff we really don't want at us.
With Tagwhat, smartphone and tablet users can now geo-locate Web content and deliver it to nearby mobile users in seconds. Tagwhat automatically applies algorithms to identify and associate related contextual content including Facebook pages, Foursquare venues, Twitter streams and, of course, commercial offers. The result is a geo-tagged, connected Web that dramatically increases the volume of localized content available to mobile users.
Tagwhat's primary revenue streams are branded channels (subscriptions paid by publishers) and affiliate revenue through third-party services, which are only viewed if selected by users, rather than being pushed at them.
Funding: Friends and family seed funding.